Birmingham Becomes 1st City in Deep South to Set Local Minimum Wage

The City Council in Birmingham, Alabama became the first municipality in the Deep South to enact a local minimum wage yesterday​, by a vote of 7-0 (with one abstention). The Birmingham minimum wage will increase to $8.50 an hour in July 2016 and to $10.10 an hour in July 2017, with annual cost-of-living increases thereafter. Currently, minimum wage in Alabama is set at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, as it is one of 21 states where the minimum wage isn’t higher than the federal minimum, and one of just five states without its own minimum wage law.

NELP estimates that a $10.10 minimum wage could affect as many as 40,000 workers and their families – 19% of the city’s population. The estimated 5 percent of Alabamians earning the federal minimum wage have not received a pay raise since 2009, when the federal wage floor was last increased.

Tuesday’s victory is a triumph for these workers as well as a sign of how powerful and far-reaching the Raise the Wage movement has become. Over the past year, the nation has witnessed local minimum wage increases passed in Los Angeles, Portland (Maine), Louisville, Kansas City and for fast food workers in New York state. The Birmingham Council’s near-unanimous action to implement $10.10 demonstrates that support for higher wages has spread to nearly every corner of the country.

Birmingham’s ability to govern its own affairs and set a local minimum wage, moreover, is a direct legacy of its years at the epicenter of civil rights battles in the fifties and sixties, which culminated in the adoption of a new Mayor-Council form of government that dislodged notorious segregationist Bull Connor from office and expanded the scope of the city’s municipal powers. Increasing the local minimum wage is just the latest step in the city’s civil rights history.

The Birmingham minimum wage ordinance also, notably, won support from a number of small businesses in the city. Danny Winter, owner and operator of two local restaurants, Crestwood Coffee Company and Buck Mulligan’s Irish Pub, wrote that, “The $7.25 minimum wage that’s been in effect since 2009 is bad for business and bad for Birmingham. If Birmingham had a $10.10 minimum wage, it would boost the consumer spending that businesses depend on.”

“Most businesses have a lot more customers than employees. When the minimum wage is too low, like it is now, it weakens the consumer demand that drives sales and hiring. A higher minimum wage will strengthen business and our local economy. Most small business owners agree with me that a higher minimum wage makes good business sense.”

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Hugh Baran

Senior Staff Attorney & Skadden Fellow

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